[Air-l] New book: "From Usenet toCoWebs"

Danyel Fisher danyelf at acm.org
Wed Jan 15 09:09:18 PST 2003

This list has periodically discussed ways of dealing with data online: at
the end of last year, for example, we talked about ways of extracting
usenet data, and what one might do with it.

I believe that this book might help address some of these questions,
and gives an overview of some of the techniques now available.

>From Usenet to CoWebs: Interacting with Social Information Spaces
Christopher Lueg and Danyel Fisher, eds.
London: Springer-Verlag. January, 2003
Price: US$49.95


This volume explores ways to look at, and instrument, spaces for social
awareness. We want to learn how to look at a space, and understand what is
going on with the group that inhabits it. We want to come to a space to
learn what it has to offer. We want to build new spaces that open themselves
to productive exploration, both to researchers and to participants. These
are tasks for statisticians and designers, sociologists, anthropologists,
and technologists to work together to explore, characterise, and build these

Through this book, we ask what aspects of an online group are important to
its participants. What tools do we have to measure online groups, and what
do those measurements mean? What are appropriate tools for the researcher to
use to examine the group? What tools might be brought to the group to
examine itself?

We also try to understand a second question: How can we take advantage of
the specific characteristics of social information spaces to build new or
enhance existing interfaces to these spaces? Different kinds of spaces have
been built with different attributes: some are highly controlled spaces,
carefully limiting what sorts of contributions can be made to the space,
while others grant a high degree of freedom to their users. These technical
attributes partially drive the social abilities of users. Because software
can be used to restrict certain types of use, software drives the culture,
norms, and understandings in the groups. Differences in user interfaces can
be affect the participants' experience of the space-as well as the ability
to study the groups, and the ability to collect data from them. These
differences will delineate some of the abilities to measure and understand
the spaces, and will shape the conversation happening within the spaces.

Researchers have enjoyed extensive access to social information spaces.
Usenet is publicly accessible and discussion lists are often easy to join,
so an anthropologist can lurk quietly, asking questions of a few key
informants but remaining largely hidden. Online spaces have been a popular
domain of study:  a researcher of virtual worlds once commented half in
jest, "every MUD has its own ethnographer." The longer tradition of formal
online research has been dominantly qualitative, as those public spaces
allowed for close examination. From this tradition has emerged a rich
variety of projects, from examinations of individuals and their social
interaction, to larger-scale issues of group overload and crises of

Our emphasis in this volume, however, is with an eye to fine-grained,
quantitative studies. Quantitative researchers take advantage of the fact
that online spaces are easily amenable to computer analysis. Of course, some
aspects of online interaction can be invisible to quantitative techniques.
Although these types of studies may never fully convey the texture of a
space, they can be powerful tools for describing many of the important group
behaviours and attributes. They have the ability to process large amounts of
data at once, allowing visualizations to interactively compare different
data sets. Quantitative methods can therefore be very good at highlighting
potentially interesting sites for closer future study.


Part I: Introduction to Online Studies and Usenet

1 Introduction: Studying Social Information Spaces -- Danyel Fisher

2 "A Standing Wave in the Web of Our Communications": Usenet and the Socio-
Technical Construction of Cyberspace Values  -- Bryan Pfaffenberger

Part II: Studying Spaces

1 Measures and Maps of Usenet -- Marc Smith

2 The Dynamics of Mass Interaction -- Steve Whittaker, Loren Terveen, Will
Hill, Lynn Cherny

3 Conversation Map: A Content-Based Usenet Newsgroup Browser -- Warren Sack

4 Silent participants: Getting to know lurkers better -- Blair Nonnecke and
Jenny Preece

Part III: Enhancing Spaces

1 Computer Mediated Communication among Teams: What are "Teams" and how are
they "Virtual"? -- Erin Bradner

2 CoWeb - Experiences with Collaborative Web spaces  -- Andreas Dieberger
and Mark Guzdial

3 From PHOAKS to TopicShop: Experiments in Social Data Mining -- Brian
Amento, Loren Terveen, and Will Hill

4 GroupLens for Usenet: Experiences in Applying Collaborative Filtering to a
Social Information System -- Bradley N. Miller, John T. Riedl and Joseph A.

5 Exploring Interaction and Participation to Support Information Seeking in
a Social Information Space -- Christopher Lueg

Appendix: Studying Online Newsgroups

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